Lost Girls & Love Hotels (2020) - Reviewed

Catherine Hanharan's debut novel is a haunting exploration of grief and longing.  She adapted her novel into a screenplay that has been directed by William Olsson.  Lost Girls and Love Hotels is an intoxicating blend of sex and menace that blazes through the mind's eye.  Featuring a phenomenal central performance, neon-soaked imagery, and an unshakable aura of danger, this is one of the year's best films.

Margaret is a Canadian ex-pat who works in Japan as an English instructor for would-be stewardesses.  Her ordered, daytime life if contrasted by her night life: a seething sojourn of reckless drinking and sexual encounters that Margaret uses as a means to escape the nightmares of her past.  Things become complicated when she begins a relationship with a charismatic Yakuza enforcer. Hanharan's script strips much of the mystery of the original text in favor of focusing on the human elements of Margaret's transformation.  This is a world of quiet whispers, lethal tomfoolery, and rough sex, all weapons designed to kill guilt and reservations.  The result is a claustrophobic wonderland of remorse and excess.

Alexandra Daddario gives the performance of her career as Margaret, a wounded soul who traverses the Tokyo metropolis like a specter.  She is supported by Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones) as Ines, her best friend and coconspirator.  Takehiro Hira rounds out the cast as Kazu, Margaret's shadowy lover.  The way their chemistry evolves is intimately tied to Olsson's passive direction.  Everything unfolds as is and the viewer is audience to steamy sex scenes, uncomfortable revelations, and potentially violent encounters.  The restrain Olsson applies is admirable, allowing his principals to grow organically.

Kenji Katori's allusive cinematography is the most stalwart ingredient.  Bending and twisting around neon lights and looming corridors, his shots echo Margaret's soul, an attractive, yet lost place where demons of the past live and breathe.  There are several shots that will immediately conjure visions of Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle’s collaborations, and these only enhance the ever-flowing ambiance.  The various Love Hotels sprinkled throughout the story are each with their own personalities, tiny cosmic dimensions of sexual congress and various kinks that Margaret explores with abandon and hope.  

Ultimately this is a poignant story that avoids cliché redemption in favor of realness, bringing the viewer to a place of understanding and comfort.  While we are all broken on some innate level, everyone possesses the capability to come back from the brink, and it is this core attribute that defines humanity.  Daddario's fearless understanding is what makes Lost Girls and Love Hotels an essential viewing experience of the year. 

--Kyle Jonathan